You slowly maneuver your frog bait between some lily pads. The lake surface is smooth as glass. The sun is beginning to set, and you can hear the cicadas ramp up their buzzing. You pause and leave the frog to sit for a while, maybe longer than usual.
Just as you consider twitching the lure one more time, a massive mouth erupts at the surface and the frog disappears. With your heart leaping into your throat, you set the hook on a big and hungry bass.
There is no more exciting time on the boat than topwater bass fishing. All of the anticipation building up to the amazing visual spectacle of a big strike. Topwater lures are one of the most diverse bait classes with an incredible variety of presentations and appearances. Let’s go over some fundamentals on how to choose the right topwater lure to get bass in the boat.
Largemouth vs. Smallmouth Bass
Apart from their obvious difference in physical appearance, largemouth and smallmouth bass (seen above) behave differently when it comes to topwater fishing.
Big largemouth bass tend to be loners that often take their time to examine and evaluate surface prey. Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, are known for being highly aggressive and will actually work in teams to attack baitfish at the surface.
To play to these tendencies, I prefer to fish slower topwater presentations with many more pauses for largemouth and will ramp up the speed and noise for smallmouths. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, make sure you use monofilament or braided lines for topwater fishing.
Match the Prey
When selecting a topwater lure, one of the best things you can do is match the fish’s food source. In spring, post-spawn, bass will most likely be keying in on young baitfish. In the summer, frogs and insects are plentiful and active.
Fall time might be perfect to throw a topwater mouse or rat as rodents are trying to gather their winter food supplies. Pretty much anything you can think of that might be a meal for a bass has a topwater lure that imitates it.
Topwater frogs are one of the most commonly used topwater lures for bass. Their design makes them virtually weedless in even the densest cover. Pros love to toss frogs into heavy lily pad fields to coax out big largemouths that are reluctant to expose themselves.
I typically don’t fish frogs for smallmouth because they tend to prefer deeper water where frogs aren’t found. The presentation of a topwater frog is very simple and subtle. I like to do somewhere between 2-5 short pulls and then let the lure rest for about 10 seconds or so.
This makes it look like a frog naturally navigating its habitat. After a strike, make sure you wait a couple of seconds to allow the fish to get the lure into its mouth before you set the hook.
Stick baits weave back and forth on the surface to mimic an injured fish. This is accomplished by short jerks (not much more than 8 inches or so) of the rod tip. Compared to a frog, fishing a stick bait takes a little practice to get your form just right.
These lures usually have 2-3 treble hooks, so they aren’t great options around surface cover, but they are a fantastic choice to fish over suspended weed lines or over drop-offs. All of the commotion caused by a stick bait is like a dinner bell for aggressive smallmouth bass.
If you can see a school of smallmouths driving baitfish to the surface, get your stick bait out there quick and hang on!
The main idea behind buzzbaits and prop baits is to create a lot of noise with a single or multiple propellers. Although they come in all different kinds of finishes, I think these baits most closely mimic the movement of large insects on the water.
If you are searching for aggressive fish and want to cover a lot of water quickly, these lures are great options. Like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits need to be constantly reeled in, otherwise they will sink and their propeller won’t do any good.
Prop baits, on the other hand, float and you can pause your retrieve, if you wish. I like to throw buzzbaits in the early morning adjacent to shallow weed lines for aggressive largemouths. For smallmouths, jerking a prop bait over a drop off has many times done the trick.
For me, poppers are my favorite topwater lure to fish (maybe because I caught my personal best largemouth on one). These lures have a big cup for a mouth that when jerked or ‘popped’, create a circular splash on the surface. This can be mimicking a frog’s movement or a struggling baitfish.
The harder you pop these baits, the bigger the splash. One reason I love these lures so much is their versatility. They allow you to leave long pauses to let a hesitant largemouth inspect the bait and they can be noisy enough to draw up big smallmouths from the depths.
Although you can quickly pop these baits back to the boat, I strongly encourage you to leave at least some pauses. In fact, my dad taught me to wait until the rings disappear before you consider popping it again.
Although I covered some of the most common topwater lure types, there are many more awesome (and weird) options out there! Everything from topwater worms to duckling lures. The world of topwater bass fishing has a lot of fun (and success) to offer you on your fishing adventures and I wish you many heart-stopping strikes on your next outing.
Ready to blow up the surface? Check out our topwater lure selection here!